If you are disabled due to mental illness, do you ever feel like you just can’t win, like you are unable to work but staying home makes your symptoms worse? If you are like me, this is one of your daily struggles. You’ve been told you cannot work, at least for now. You have all this time to create, but you feel out of it. What can you do to get back into the swing of things?
I felt this way a lot and felt like I was no longer part of the world. People always ask when they meet someone new, “So what do you do?” I never knew how to answer that question. I couldn’t say I was a stay-at-home mother because I had no children. I couldn’t say I worked even part time because I did not. I didn’t want to pour out my sad tale on every soul who asked that question because I didn’t wear my illness on my sleeve. I didn’t want to just say I was unemployed because I didn’t want people thinking I was a lazy person who just sat at home living off of my husband. I asked so many therapists how to handle that question and never got a satisfactory answer.
Then it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to find out how to answer it. Maybe I needed to make an answer to it. My doctor was adamant about my not going back to work, but perhaps there was another solution.
After failed attempts at working again against doctor’s orders, I finally remembered that I had been a part of a service sorority in college. Maybe something I could do would be to help someone else. But the question remained: what was I capable of?
I know not all of you attend church and I am not going to say you should, but that is where I started. I looked for opportunities to do small things at the church. When we collected items for a charity or made kits for relief efforts, I took the time to make kits and purchase things. These were inexpensive and easy to do. I also made meals for people who had just had a loss or a surgery or were going through chemo. I sent cards to people going through a rough time who needed prayers. Then I sang with the band and started serving on committees. I eventually became a co-coordinator for two seasons of our Operation Christmas Child efforts and became a council member.
Being involved really made a difference. It was easier to motivate myself when I knew others were depending on me. It also got me to think about someone else other than me. I was able to get outside of myself and the little world I was living in. Plus, most of these things didn’t create an unneeded stress that would only serve to make my symptoms worse.
I highly recommend getting involved in your community. Put together a meal for a neighbor in need. Buy a few extra items for your local food pantry when you are shopping. I promise you it feels good to help someone else in any small way you can. It was one of the first external steps I took to feeling better.
You can rebuild your life again. I am still working on mine, but as you saw last week, I have made a lot of progress on that front. There is life with mental illness. You just have to find what works for you. I can tell you that if you work at it, you will be rewarded with success in time. It is not immediate gratification, but it does exist.
So, stay on your meds, talk to your professionals about volunteer work, and see what you can do for someone else. It may not seem like a creative assignment, but it seriously helps with creativity when you learn about someone else’s story. Stories are useful for art. Plus, when that dreaded question is asked, you have an interesting reply to it. Until next week, when I will continue this post, be psyched!